Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Corporate Response and Chance Conversation

My manager replied to my initial inquiry about the company's attitude toward sustainable development and CSR/ESG. The response was not a "go get 'em tiger" that I had fantasized about (not really what I expected), but it was open to the idea. Run it up the flag pole, but odds are it would be received with a shrug. I have yet to receive an answer to my initial inquiry with HR regarding the existence of a sustainability report for our company. I know the question was been sent up the chain to the Treasurer/Investor Relations/Corporate Communications person last week, but I have not heard anything. I am certain I will need to ask again.

On another note...something I find encouraging when I travel; a chance conversation with another professional interested in sustainable development.

My flight to Champaign, IL for the 27th annual Electric Utility Chemistry Workshop was a good one. Despite the howling winds I saw thrashing the trees as I landed in Chicago from Boston, the small plane we all shared to Champaign did not feel as if it experienced the same treatment. There was a brief moment when I questioned my faith in the technology of flight (realizing that my faith was actually placed in the people that designed and built the plane I occupied).

I started up a conversation with the gentleman seated next to me. He works for a small company called Lason that specializes in the digitization of microfilm and microfiche. We had an interesting conversation about the challenges facing organizations that have large amounts of data on old and in some cases crumbling microfiles. Colleges, Universities, insurance agencies, government entities, they all have many thousands of microfiles that need preserving. Why not make them digital? They'll last longer, be more easily accessible, and take up less space. I wonder what the LCA of microfilm scanned into a digital file would be?

In any case, we quickly found that we shared similar opinions about energy use and sustainable development (maybe because we're both cyclists). I cannot help but mention energy use in a random conversation with a complete stranger. I find that just about anyone I speak with will be interested in the concept, and understand that our economy is tenuously based upon artificially inexpensive energy, but they struggle with how they can have an impact. Their level of comprehension varies; many grasp the basic issue, but they would prefer not to think about the fact that their activities are contributing to climate change.

Bob, the gent I was speaking with, made the point that the American consumer has to have an economic reason to act in the best interest of society and the planet, it cannot merely be some sort of moral imperative. I was glad to hear him say that. The entire movement of CSR/ESG/sustainable development hinges on engaging capitalists in the greening of their products, services, and the delivery of said products and services. There is an argument for a moral imperative to drive our policy making. The right political leader should be able to appeal to our inherent desire to preserve the future for the generations to come, but I know I am still waiting for one. The individuals that take action on climate change or environmental issues may be acting under their own personal imperative, but to make it something tenable to our mass consumption culture, there must be policies in place that promote the correct price signals.

Some companies are taking action on the packaging front. Consumers free themselves of excess hassle from occasionally impossible to open packages and companies reduce material costs and maybe even transportation costs. The NYTimes ran an article entitled Incredible Shrinking Packages last weekend. Gwen Ruta of Environmental Defense and Bob Langert of McDonald's are mentioned in the article, referring to their landmark partnership in the early 90's to end McDonald's use of Styrofoam clam shells for their sandwiches.

There is waste associated with products that have absolutely no impact on the value delivered by the product. Let's get rid of it from the beginning.

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